Macabre Dance with Your Unconscious

Have you ever done something, or thought something, you’re ashamed of?

Uncomfortable as it is, dredge up that memory. We’ll be using it for today’s exercise.

The purpose of our experiment is to demonstrate the effect on our conscious when we try to write something our unconscious doesn’t want written.

Find a place you feel safe. Sit by the fire, if you can, or if that’s not possible, have a shredder under your desk. You’ll want access to methods of rapid complete destruction.

Are you sitting uncomfortably? Good. Let’s begin.

this is where the wicked writing goes

Lay out your writing implements: pencil and paper are best.

Line up your method of destruction; fire or shredder, have it ready.

Now, write down that thing you’re ashamed of.

Oh, the fire? That’s so you can destroy the evidence before anyone could possibly see it. Removes any actual risk of embarrassment, of having this thought discovered once it’s written. At the slightest hint of intruders, toss it on the fire and behave as if nothing happened.

It’s just you and your writing.

You’re safe, right?

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

# # #

The act of putting something in writing conjures it from the ether and renders it real.

That’s how powerful your unconscious is: despite knowing you’ve already done or thought this shameful thing, if it’s not writ it’s not real.

Your unconscious will do all in its power to stop you bringing this painful thing into the material world. Its job, after all, is to protect you: dodging traffic, avoiding lightning, driving hunger and thirst.

What kind of savior would it be if it allowed you to scamper about, willy nilly, bringing into reality something as painful as that memory?

And yet, writing that evokes true emotion from readers comes, not from the head, the conscious, but from the heart, the unconscious; direct from the depths, unfiltered by fear.

And there’s your challenge: negotiating a truce with your unconscious to allow what’s in your heart to come out of your hands without your head interfering.

We’ll talk about that more next week, eh?

12 thoughts on “Macabre Dance with Your Unconscious

  1. “Where there is no imagination there is no horror.” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.)

    Mr. Doyle once said he was horrified at the ability to conjure up such evil protagonists from his imagination. And so it is with us authors. The fact that we can write such evil protagonists from our psyche is astounding indeed. Where does such evil come from? From observing evil in the world? From our own minds…or..a little of both?

    Scary isn’t it?

  2. No kidding. The scene where Gertrude visits Phil in A Long, Hard Look has no relation to my real life, what I think and feel and believe. Yet, it’s the right scene for the book, and it came out right, I think.


  3. Yes, and here is what is bizarre: those are the scenes we remember the most:

    Through the Fog= Protagonist getting chased on a boat on a lake

    Anodyne (unpublished)= Jake Calcutta swimming in the harbor, bullets whizzing by his head.

    A Long, Hard Look= Phil getting knifed buy a crazy blond

  4. That long slow chase scene on the lake was a lotta fun to write.

    Jake in the harbor. I’d forgotten that. Time to get anodyne out of mothballs.

  5. Interesting that you just posted this. A friend of mine asked me a couple of days ago if I’d ever done something I’d really regretted. Nineteen hours later, she had to get off Skype so she could replenish herself and wash off my thick accounting of sordid crimes.

    It reminded me of one teenaged cross-eyed idiot thing I did that I do want to write about, because if I don’t confess, I’ll never get into heaven.

  6. Having read some of your accounts, I am concerned about what could be worse.

    Maybe call the Coen brothers about optioning the film rights before you publish?

  7. Sad to say, I’ve done so many embarrassing +/or shameful things, I wouldn’t know which one to write about! I should try this exercise!

    Some evil involves deliberate cruel intent suchas –thank god — most of us don’t possess. We see such examples in the news of diabolically crafted cruelty. Then again, some “evil deeds” result from falling into circumstances where you can’t hang on to rational thought anymore.

    But we find some serious “evil” in our own hearts, too, so it shouldn’t be hard to conger it up for a protagonist. I think everyone knows that delicious “nya nya nya” we feel sometimes when we put one over on an opponent — five seconds before conscience, remorse and regret kick in. (Hopefully.)

  8. My dad’s niece (with a drinking problem) left her husband and went to live with another man. Then she left this second man for yet another. One day the second fellow took a rifle, went to her place and shot her new love. Then he drove away, parked, and shot himself. I’d guess “loss of rational thought” here — likely resulting from an overpowering anger.

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